On Martin Luther King Jr. day, about 10,000 people took a silent march down the streets of Houston. They wore red tape printed with the word "LIFE" over their mouths and later broke into the civil rights standard, "We Shall Overcome." They were fighting a new "frontier" in the civil rights movement, said one leader, Lou Engle, director of Call to Conscience. They were marching against the opening of the largest Planned Parenthood center in North America-an "abortion supercenter" that sprawls across 6.1 acres and spans 78,000 square feet.
According to Engle, the march was "not so much a protest as a silent prayer." They began on Sunday with fasting and prayer, and then on Monday silently marched from the Catholic Charismatic Center to the new abortion center. About 1,200 lined the sidewalks, their mouths also bound by red tape. National leaders like Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood director in Bryan, Texas, later spoke at the press conference.
The new Planned Parenthood center is twice the size of the old one, with 15 exam rooms, 16 meeting rooms, a research lab, and an education center. Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas (PPHSET) representatives said one of the added benefits is a secure parking lot that will make it easier for clients to enter the facility "without harassment from protesters." Planned Parenthood quibbles with those who call it the "largest abortion-providing facility" in the nation, saying that instead it is the "largest administrative and healthcare facility" in the nation-but it is the largest building, and it will provide abortions.
The rally was multi-ethnic and minority-led, said pro-life leaders-like the neighborhoods where the center will work. According to Engle, the building is nestled between four minority neighborhoods, three that are 85 percent Hispanic and one that is 85 percent black.
According to PPHSET, it is expanding due to the community's healthcare needs, with 1 million lacking insurance and half of that 1 million of reproductive age. But Planned Parenthood also will do a brisk business in the area with its minority neighborhoods and its college population. Abortion disproportionately affects minorities. According to the Allan Guttmacher Institute, African-American women are nearly five times more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have an abortion. Almost one in every two African-American pregnancies ends in abortion. PPHSET statistics indicate that last year, 34 percent of its abortion clients were white, 34 percent Hispanic, and 25 percent black.
This huge expansion comes after Planned Parenthood reported one of its worst years in memory. STOPP International has reported that in 2009, only 11 Planned Parenthood clinics opened and 38 Planned Parenthood offices closed-a record number of closures. In El Paso, Texas, all seven Planned Parenthood centers shut down, citing financial pressure as the reason. PPHSET reported that the funding for the new building came from foundations, individuals, and Planned Parenthood board and staff members.
Engle said that the rally was meant to show Planned Parenthood that Houston did not want the notoriety of the largest abortion facility in the United States. He told the story of Bishop W.C. Martin, pastor to a small church in the tiny town of Possum Trot, Texas-a town of about 600 on a dirt road in the poorest county of the state. Martin and his 200 church members have adopted 72 children out of foster care. Said Engle, "This is what Houston wants to be known for: adoption, pregnant mother's care, the alternative to abortion trafficking in America."